This morning I was honored to share the message with a lovely congregation nearby and I thought I’d share it with you here too. The scripture reading is from John 18:12-27.
12 Then the company of soldiers, the commander, and the guards from the Jewish leaders took Jesus into custody. They bound him 13 and led him first to Annas. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. (14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it was better for one person to die for the people.) Peter denies Jesus 15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Because this other disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard. 16 However, Peter stood outside near the gate. Then the other disciple (the one known to the high priest) came out and spoke to the woman stationed at the gate, and she brought Peter in. 17 The servant woman stationed at the gate asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?” “I’m not,” he replied. 18 The servants and the guards had made a fire because it was cold. They were standing around it, warming themselves. Peter joined them there, standing by the fire and warming himself. Jesus testifies 19 Meanwhile, the chief priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, “I’ve spoken openly to the world. I’ve always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews gather. I’ve said nothing in private. 21 Why ask me? Ask those who heard what I told them. They know what I said.” 22 After Jesus spoke, one of the guards standing there slapped Jesus in the face. “Is that how you would answer the high priest?” he asked. 23 Jesus replied, “If I speak wrongly, testify about what was wrong. But if I speak correctly, why do you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him, bound, to Caiaphas the high priest. Peter denies Jesus again 25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing with the guards, warming himself. They asked, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” Peter denied it, saying, “I’m not.” 26 A servant of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said to him, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my all time favorite musicals or rock opera. The music is fabulous, it’s gripping, it’s touching, and even though we know the story it draws us even deeper into it. The only thing about it that leaves me wanting is the ending but that’s for another sermon. As I read today’s scripture I could hear the music and songs in my mind.
There are two distinct parts or stories in our scripture this morning. One is the obvious one of Peter’s denial. In the rock opera, this is a very emotional part, ending with Peter shouting, “I don’t know HIM!” This a point when we really get drawn in and usually angry at Peter. How in the world could he deny knowing Jesus? Many of us, at this moment indignantly think to ourselves “I would NEVER!” But then silently we hear the question in our hearts, “would we?”
The other part of the story here is what is happening to Jesus at the very same moment. Jesus is being questioned by the high priest Annas about his disciples and his teachings and when the guard doesn’t like his answer, he strikes Jesus with his hand. Jesus asks him to bear witness, to tell him what he said that was false that caused him to strike him. We don’t get to hear the answer, we only know that Jesus was then sent on to Caiaphas another high priest.
As I was writing this, I wasn’t sure at this point where I was planning on going with this message. So many thoughts running through my mind, so many ideas, so many questions, but I trusted the Holy Spirit to lead me. So… would you please pray with me?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I’m going to be honest with you all, I’ve been really struggling the last couple of years, I think many of us have been. For me it’s been overwhelming at times. Covid, watching people suffer has been hard, whether it’s been through their seclusion, their loneliness, their illness, death, mourning, grief. Then I also had some losses of my own, one church I was serving closed and the other wasn’t ready to close yet but I couldn’t go through that process again so I left and I felt guilt and grief over both situations. But I was excited to have more time with family and to go visit my kids who lived 8 hours away only to have them move that same month 16 hours away. Grief and sadness again this time for time lost. Then like many others, we’ve had family strife in our extended family and have become estranged from some of our family… more grief and sadness. We’ve had some wonderful things happen too… our other child moved closer to home! I get to see her regularly now! My husband and I have grown closer through all of this… and our marriage is stronger than ever! We got a new puppy! So it hasn’t all be bad, or negative. Like every one else we’ve had good times and bad times over the last few years.
All this to say, I’ve been struggling off and on lately. Struggling with my faith. Now, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. Times of struggle, often lead to times of growth and vice versa. Times of growth often lead to times of struggle. Struggle is often how we grow.
One of the things that has pushed me to struggle with my faith the most has been watching the strife that’s been going on in our country. People using Jesus’ name to further their agenda… Both sides do it and it makes me so sad. I feel like lately Jesus’ name has been being dragged through the mud. I feel like he should come back just so he could sue for slander! But that wouldn’t be at all like him. He would just turn the other cheek.
But as I read about Peter’s denial, I couldn’t help but think of about all that has been going on and think that all of this is also a denial of sorts. A denial of Jesus. I don’t think we have to say we don’t know him to deny him. Our actions can be a denial, our words and how we use them can be denial.
Many years ago we were attending a church in Sierra Vista, AZ. This church had a daycare during the week and they had built a new driveway. It wasn’t exactly a circular drive but the daycare asked that it be one way. You came in this way and out that. They had signs posted and had people out directing the traffic to help everyone get used to the one way flow. Evidently, it didn’t go well. People didn’t follow the directions and people got angry. Our Pastor Stewart Lewis, shared in one of his sermons that it was distressing to watch but that the worst part was that many of those not following the directions, the signs and many of those getting angry had that little fish symbol on their cars. You know that fish symbol that Christians like to put on their car. There was song my kids used to sing, Draw a line on your side say a prayer hoping this that the line on your side over there forms a fish if so you know they’re believers in the Lord, Draw a Line make the sign of Christ… but I digress… That fish symbol is a sign of Christ. And the Pastor said that when we put that out there for everyone to see we need to act more like Christ because we are saying, “Hey! Look! I’m a Christian!” But do we want people to see Christians as law breakers speeding down the road? Do we want people to see Christians as angry people waving their fists or certain fingers in anger? What if this is the only Christ they see that day? Is that the face we want to put on Christ for all the world to see?
This really hit me. Not that I’m a law breaker or an angry fist waving kind of person but it really made me think about how important it is that we think about how others see us when we are making a point of saying we are a Christian.
My husband and I later joked that we just wouldn’t put that fish symbol on our cars just in case we have a bad day. But this message has always stayed with me.
I’ve thought a lot about it over the last few years as we’ve seen people angrily shouting that they are a Christian and don’t have to do this, or they are a Christian therefore… Lately, in the news, on social media, at school board meetings, in stores, in parking lots, it could be any where really, we hear and see professing Christians screaming, shouting, waving signs of anger, hate, disrespect, rudeness and the list goes on and on… This is the face of Christ we are putting out for the world to see.
This is where my struggle has been. I feel like as some are professing Christ they are at the very same time denying him and who he is.
Honestly, my anger over some of these happenings has also probably been a denial of sorts as well! Honestly, sometimes I don’t want to be lumped in with people like this so I’ve been tempted to say I’m more of Jesus follower than a Christian anymore but isn’t that a denial as well?
As I think of all of these examples, I know I’ve been vague about them but you have your own examples I’m sure, as I’ve been thinking about them and reading our scripture I also couldn’t help but think of Jesus before Annas. He answered his questions, which we don’t know what the questions actually were, we only know Jesus’ answer and we know that the guard didn’t like his answer. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, or it wasn’t what he thought should have been the answer and in anger or in hate, the guard lashed out at Jesus by striking him.
Again, I think of all the times we’ve been asked a question and our answer was met with a lashing out because someone didn’t like our answer OR when we’ve asked a question and we have lashed out because we didn’t like the answer! Honestly, I’m a little worried about being lashed out at when I’m done today…
How often are we the guard lashing out at others? Or even at God when we’ve asked God a question and didn’t like God’s response?
Again so much to think about here… I’ll be honest, I’ve never looked at this scripture like this before. I usually just stick to the surface… Peter denying knowing Jesus, his best friend, his mentor, his teacher in order to save himself. I would never do that! I’ve only thought of Jesus reminding the high priest that he spoke in public and they had heard all that he said so they knew he had done nothing wrong and they crucified him anyway… well, after passing him around trying to get someone else to do it.
But as I was planning for this message, my eyes were opened to new ideas of what denial can be, to new ideas of crucifixion and how we can do it even without a cross.
My daddy always told me that the best evangelism was in the way I lived my life. He taught me not to just say I believe in Jesus, but to live like I believe in him, to speak like I believe in him, and to love like I believe in him. This is what Pastor Kyle preached about last week… he asked the question how are we going to imitate Jesus and his love?
I encourage you this week to spend some time dwelling on this… What face are we putting on Christ for others – non-believers and believers a like – to see and know? What ways have you been denying Jesus without even realizing it? What ways have you put Jesus on the cross? Write it out, confess it this week during your devotion time, this is what I’m going to be doing this week too, This is my plan for my devotion time this week – I’m going to take a good look at myself to see what face I put on Christ, to see where I am denying him, how I am putting him on that cross and then I’ll write it, confess it, pray over it and then let it go. I invite you to do the same – ask yourself those same questions, write it, confess it, pray over it and then let it go and let the true face of Christ shine through you. Amen.